Help with Dementia in later life.
The simplest of actions, things we do apparently without thinking, still require many functions of the brain. Just making a phone call, for example, involves multiple functions, including things like choosing to make the call (motivation), remembering the number (long term memory), remembering the conversation as it progresses (short term memory), and deciding when to end the call (decision making).
We all forget a phone number from time to time, but forgetting how to use the phone entirely, or problems with the many steps and functions involved could suggest the early stages of dementia. This is a deterioration of brain function that starts slowly before progressing over time. With an early diagnosis, people with dementia can still lead a good and fulfilling life.
Dementia usually starts slowly and progresses over a number of years. In the early stages, people may not realise anything is wrong. Different types of dementia exhibit different symptoms, and even two people with the same type of dementia can contrast markedly. However at some point most people will experience:
- memory loss, especially of recent events
- difficulty with finding the right words and following conversations
- changes in behaviour or personality
- problems carrying out everyday tasks like cooking and driving
Some of the symptoms also occur in other conditions (like depression, anxiety or stroke), so it is important to be diagnosed by a doctor with the appropriate skills.
What are the causes?
The most common causes of dementia are:
- Alzheimer’s disease (60% of all dementia) – caused by a protein in the brain resulting in slowly progressive deterioration
- vascular dementia (25% of all dementia, sometimes also occurring with Alzheimer’s disease) – due to problems with blood supply to the brain
- Lewy body dementia (5%) – visual hallucinations and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (shaking and stiffness) are common in this condition
- fronto-temporal dementia (2%) – which often causes changes in behaviour (irritability, disinhibition, impulsiveness), poor judgement, language problems and changes in mood before memory is affected
Key facts about dementia
- There are over 750,000 people with dementia in the UK
- Over 1/3 never get a diagnosis
- Six people in 10 living in care homes have dementia
- People live on average 8 years after diagnosis
- Some causes of dementia are treatable
The effects of Dementia vary widely between people and it progresses differently in individual cases. You may notice very little to begin with, but as the condition progresses you, or people around you, may notice that changes in memory, thinking and behaviour affect work and social activities, driving, and domestic activities such as cooking and dressing. There is also an increased risk of depression and anxiety.
How is it diagnosed?
There are no simple tests for dementia. Doctors will want to hear how symptoms have progressed over time, ideally from the person concerned and a relative. The doctor will also check various aspects of brain function such as memory, use of language and recognition. They will probably organise some blood tests and a brain scan. Sometimes the doctor will ask for a further assessment by a psychologist or occupational therapist. After diagnosis it is best to have regular reviews, as the challenges and difficulties that dementia causes will change over time.
What is the treatment for dementia?
For some types of dementia (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease) a medicine, known as a cholinesterase inhibitor, increases a chemical in the brain that can help improve memory and reduce confusion. Activities that stimulate the brain are also very helpful in improving memory for some people.
Depression, anxiety, hallucinations and changes in behaviour may also improve with treatment. People with dementia need advice and help to stay fit and healthy and extra monitoring of their general health such as blood pressure and heart health.
Many people with dementia benefit from help, advice and support to plan for the future and to live a good life with the condition.
As the years pass, eventually people may need homecare to help with daily tasks such as washing and cooking.
What do I do now?
If you are worried that you or someone close to you may have dementia, it is important to have a medical assessment to confirm the diagnosis and the type of dementia, and to discuss treatment options.
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